THE 'GRANTS not fees' demonstration on Wednesday of last week was more militant than any student demo for years. If it hadn't been for the downpour that day it would probably have been the biggest demo for years too.
Students are furious at the hypocrisy of a New Labour government prepared to spend billions on war and at the same time say students must pay more for education. Sam and Jen had travelled to the demo from Derby University.
'It's the first march I have ever attended,' Sam told Socialist Worker. 'But if universities can charge what they like my little sister won't get the chance to experience university. Why should some people get better education just because their parents are rich?'
Jen added, 'Politicians are so two faced - they got grants and free college places, now they want to stop anyone else having the same opportunities.' A group of medical students from Leicester braved the rain in their white medical coats. One of them told Socialist Worker, 'People shouldn't be penalised because they get an education. Doctors do get paid a lot, but some of my friends who went straight into business already get more than I will ever do. They will never get enough doctors if they make us pay for the privilege of helping others.'
Many protesters had made home-made placards, such as 'What's worth more? Education or war?' Some of the most popular placards were ones that said 'War on fees, not Iraq!' produced by the Socialist Worker Student Society.
The demonstration came at the end of a term that saw huge numbers of students demonstrate and organise against the war. That anger merged with anger against education secretary Charles Clarke's threatened introduction of top-up fees of up to £15,000.
Hannah from Newnham College, Cambridge, said, 'Charles Clarke is a traitor. In 1972 he was president of our university union and would have backed us. Now he attacks us.' The revolt against top-up fees has been so great that on the day of the demo Blair was forced to announce that parents won't have to pay top-up fees up front.
Some have heralded this as a victory. But the danger now is that anything less than extortionate top-up fees will be sold to students as a concession by the government. Whatever the review into education funding comes out with, it will still mean students paying much more. Blair has said 'the status quo is not an option'. The government may introduce a graduate tax instead of top-up fees. This just means higher tuition fees being paid after graduation, rather than before it.
Student debt already averages £15,000. A graduate tax will saddle people with even more. Students who get rich quick will be able to pay it straight off. But those who get poorly paid public sector jobs will be saddled with debt and interest for years. One good demo a year is not enough to beat this threat.
The government's review into university funding should be greeted by a wave of rallies and protests. On the Stop the War Coalition day of action on 31 October seven universities occupied their colleges in protest against the war. This is the sort of inspiration we should look to in the fight for free education.
Helen Salmon, NUS executive (personal capacity)
MANAGEMENT AT Manchester College of Arts and Technology have been forced to back off from their attack on Natfhe union branch secretary Geoff Brown. Management suspended Geoff from work while they conducted a disciplinary investigation. They have been forced to drop two of the three disciplinary charges against him. However, Geoff has been found 'guilty' of a charge in relation to his register-keeping, and has been given a written warning.
But management have failed in what many saw as an attempt to victimise a union rep. This was the result of a lively campaign to defend Geoff. This included over 70 people taking part in a solidarity meeting last week. The union branch also threatened to hold a ballot on strikes. Geoff plans to appeal against the written warning.